Jack is 7, and it has been such a fun age. He's gaining confidence and he's so inquisitive. Jack was almost 3 when Jenelle's medical issues became a priority. While at times it hurt to hear him ask, "Why can't she play with me?" there were other times where I was thankful for his innocence. When he was younger, we used to explain that "Jenelle has a broken brain", and that the doctors were trying to fix it. He was satisfied with that explanation, and seems to have gone on about his life almost as if he were an only child at times.
As he is getting older, I've noticed the old "broken brain" excuse is getting tougher to sell. It may have started with our involvement with Challenger Little League earlier this year. I think that experience was his first introduction to the fact that there are other kids like Jenelle. Since Challenger League, he has said some things lately to make me realize that he is finally understanding how Jenelle is so different.
When our dear friend Mollie passed in June, I sat down with Jack and told him what had happened and why Mommy and Daddy were so sad. This was my first attempt at explaining the real world to Jack, without really trying to pass off the "broken brain" excuse. Though he had never met Mollie, he know all about her from our friend Jim (Mollie's Uncle.) He knew she had many surgeries, and he knew she was similar to Jenelle.
Recently, when Jenelle had her abscess tooth, I took Jack with me to Jenelle's doctor's appointment. Jack sat attentively and listened to the doctor and I discuss Jenelle's tooth. On the way out to the car, Jack suddenly asked, "Mommy, will Jenelle need surgery?" Knowing he had just listened to the conversation I replied, "We don't know, but yes, it's a possibility." Then he asked, "Mommy, if Jenelle has surgery, will she die?" My heart stopped a moment, and I realized he was making the connection to our friend Mollie. Mollie died after slipping into a coma during surgery. I reassured him that was not a possibility with Jenelle's tooth.
Sometimes I worry that he is far too experienced for his age. Later that night, we talked about life with Jenelle. I asked Jack if he knew our home was different, and he said yes. He realizes that his younger sister is not like other kids, and he simply said, "Jenelle is different, and she has a broken brain" almost verbatim from what we've always told him. And after repeating that mantra, he looked at me and said, "Mom, when are the doctors going to fix her broken brain?" In the past I always responded that we were working on it and the doctors were trying to help Jenelle. Realizing now that our innocent excuses are too childish for him now, I answered honestly; "Jack, it may never be fixed. Jenelle may always be like she is. A little different from others and always improving." He simply replied, "Oh", and seemed content.
Simple answers about Jenelle aren't easy. As Jack grows up, he deserves to become fully aware of of how she is different, and sometimes those answers need to be truthful. While at times his keen understanding of the special circumstances surrounding life with Jenelle are heart wrenching, at least it is honest. I realize the need now to share more detailed information with him about Jenelle's real issues. While it is a common phrase to apply to special needs kids, it applies to typical ones as well; kids are resilient.
Jack makes me so proud in the ways he loves his sister. He respects her disability, and it doesn't stop him from thinking life is different in any way. In the end, he will be better because of it.